Monday, February 24, 2014

"To resolve may be only to die"

This is a quote from David Roberts in The Mountain of My Fear

"Hence the mountains, in a sense, could mean more to me than people could. But what sort of relationship is possible between a man and a mountain? If any, an obviously one-sided one, and if the mountain only mirrors the man, if the route he chooses is not made out of rock snow, and ice so much as out of some tortured translation of his ego, then that clean love he can feel toward his objective would become a barren narcissism. 'Have we vanquished an enemy?' Mallory said 'None but ourselves.' Put that way, it sounds noble, it rings with aphoristic authority. But what would happen, I wonder, if the self could be vanquished? What would be left of life but to live it out in smug lethargy? Could any man who had vanquished himself ever want to climb another mountain? [...] I need to believe, if only to explain climbing, that the dissatisfactions of life ultimately become its joys, that to resolve may be only to die, not to answer" (233).

This isn't a book on our reading list, but one that I am very captivated by. I wanted to share this quote because it relates to our discussion in class on Thursday. In this passage, David addresses the question, why climb? And in turn, his answer also addresses the question, what can a mountain do?

David is working against a notion that people climb, not just to conquer a mountain, but to conquer the self by reference to Mallory's famous quote. Instead of accept Mallory's answer, David wonders what it would mean to vanquish the self? He believes that doing so - to live out life in a smug lethargy - would not be characteristic of a mountaineer. Rather, what is characteristic of mountaineers, David suggests, is the lack of complacency, a resilient self that is never vanquished. The italicized passage suggests pretty explicitly that the only resolution to a climbers self may be death. I have to wonder here if David is over-glorifying the relationship between death and the mountain climber, but I am tempted to say he is getting it right. That the 'true' mountaineer will never be vanquished or satisfied until they are dead.

I see David's analysis as an answer to the question, why climb? For David, you climb because you are a mountaineer with the characteristic feature of a restless, un-vanquished self that will not be tamed until tamed by death. This answer reaches deeply into the question, what do mountains do? As David explains, the mountain becomes a mirror for the mountaineer. It is a mirror that endlessly teases the unrelenting self of a mountaineer or it shatters /scares away those who are not of the same type.

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